Is the Anti-Hagel Campaign a Step Forward for Gay Rights?

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 8 2013 9:26 AM

Is the Anti-Hagel Campaign a Step Forward for Gay Rights?

Chris Geidner treats the "gay rights" attacks on Chuck Hagel with a lack of cynicism that's missing in the rest of the media. It's a step forward for gays, writes Geidner, that Hagel's been forced to apologize for his 1998 derision of a gay nominee and his expired Don't Ask, Don't Tell stance.

The Republican use of anti-LGBT views to tarnish a Democratic administration's nominee reveals something that many Republican leaders have begun to say in private: Active support for LGBT rights is on the verge of becoming a default, mainstream position — even if the Republican Party hasn't (yet) arrived there.

Maybe, but isn't this a purely cynical exercise? Whenever a non-white, non-male conservative is nominated for a high-level political job, conservatives up and dare liberals to attack them. Go ahead, criticize Clarence Thomas, you high-tech lynch mob! Go ahead, demean Allen West, because you want to keep blacks on the "plantation!"

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The "Hagel's bad on gay issues" attack is another version of this, and not a particularly effective version. Anti-Hagelites briefly brought the Human Rights Campaign and Barney Frank onto their team, so outraged were they about Hagel's 1998 characterization of James Hormel as "aggressively gay." But the HRC and Frank flipped back, and the only gay organization of the left that's still criticizing Hagel is GetEqual. No offense meant to GetEqual, but the California-based group is so obscure that the Drudge headline it inspired -- "GAYS TURN ON OBAMA PICK" -- felt like bait and switch. (Imagine a story headlined "HOLLYWOOD STARS SPEAK OUT," and when you click, you're reading about Pauly Shore and Pia Zadora.)

Hagel's Republican critics in the Senate haven't led with the gay issue. The attack has come from the conservative media and from the Log Cabin Republicans, who've never been shy about trolling the left for making slow progress on gay issues while the GOP stands still.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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